Dead Trees Give Life

Ken Bevis, DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist

Our grand trees reaching for the sky are really just skeletons and straws…

Tree cross sectionBut what is a tree? It is just a narrow layer of living tissue over a dead skeleton of fiber. Living cells only cover a very narrow outer layer of the conical cylinder(s) of wood. Some of that wood acts to move water upward and nutrients down, but most of the wood simply holds the tree in the sky.

The bark is dead too, protecting the fragile living cambium layers just beneath it. Here is where life resides. The vascular cambium layer grows in both directions creating xylem wood to the inside, and phloem towards the outside. The narrow phloem layer conducts nutrients down to the roots from the photosynthesis going on in the crown. The xylem moves water upwards from the roots. Another layer of living tissue, the cork (or bark) cambium, is just under the outer protective bark. It grows only outward, and produces the bark itself. The leaves (needles are leaves too) grow out of the living ends of branches and are supported by this miraculous stem system. That’s it.

But when something goes horribly wrong for the plant, and the living tree dies, all of this already dead tissue that has been

Loup Loup pass near Twisp, burned in 2014.

Loup Loup pass near Twisp, burned in 2014.

protected by plant functions (such as sap), begins to be fully acted upon by various biological agents. That sweet cambium goes first, eaten by insects and fungus right away. And patient fungi will work slowly on woody tissue to break it down into basic elements that cycle through the ecosystem. This takes time, and fungal action varies by climate and moisture. For example, wood decomposition rates for dry east Cascades forests are very different from those for wet, west side forests. Obviously some dead wood decay occurs on living trees (hollow stems for example), so the fungus is after the wood all of the time.

Dead wood, sometimes LOTS of dead wood, is foundational to forest ecosystems. The roles played by standing and lying dead wood include nutrient cycling, water retention, soil stability and habitat, among other functions. Our understanding of this complex set of ecological processes continues to grow.

Old fire scarred snag with Douglas squirrel cone cache.

Old fire scarred snag with Douglas squirrel cone cache.

Dead trees are created in pulses over time. Single or small groups of trees can die in mature forests, killed by fungus, wind, competition between trees, or insects. A root rot pocket, for example, can kill an expanding circle of susceptible trees. These small clusters of rotting stems can be a haven for many forest species. Pileated woodpeckers, with their distinctive oval excavations, and the flying squirrels that use their cavities or entrances to hollow trees, can have habitat havens in such places.

And what about fire? When forests burn, trees die. Sometimes large numbers of trees are killed all at once, sometimes across vast areas. It’s a fact. Particularly in hot fires in dense fuels; cambium cooks and needles fry. Conifers are particularly flammable and can go up in spectacular crown fire. This is not always bad news for wildlife. For example, some birds, such as the black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers are specifically adapted to utilize fire killed trees. Browse species usually recover and provide improved habitat for ungulates such as deer and moose in a few short years. But wood is left, and dead trees will stand for many decades. Blackened stems can be found in mature forests throughout Washington making us wonder, “When did this burn?”.

A burned sea of black, dead stems causes us to think we must DO something immediately. Not necessarily.

Post fire recovery is a complicated process that requires time and care to help the forest heal. Some trees will survive and

Twenty-year-old burn on Sherman Pass in NE Washington.

Twenty-year-old burn on Sherman Pass in northeast Washington.

form the core for the new stand. Dead trees have many important roles and are an integral component of the regenerative process after a fire. They offer some shade to seedlings trying to become established. Roots, although dead, provide soil stability. When the trees fall, (which can occur immediately, or much, much later), down logs help hold the soil in place, provide decaying organic material and habitat for many species such as chipmunks, small birds and snakes. Small mammals are particularly important to forest recovery due to their role in dispersal of colonizing plant seeds and fungal spores that inoculate soils with important microorganisms. Nutrients are released into the system as a result of chemical changes in vegetation and soil. Fire effects can be profound.

Dead trees are critical habitat for many wildlife species, providing nesting and feeding sites for woodpeckers and other cavity dependent species, as perches for song birds, and down logs for ground level habitat. This is true in for stands after fires and in recovered forests where old, burned snags and logs persist for many years.

Salvage logging, if done carefully, can recover lost value from timber crop trees, reduce future fuel loading and enable access to burned areas through roads and skid trails. But it can also damage fragile burned soils and accelerate erosion and weed infestation. Removing dead trees that could help stabilize the soil and provide habitat can sometimes actually inhibit long-term forest health and recovery. Removing dead trees may be necessary for protection of infrastructure such as buildings, or along roads where falling trees could pose safety hazards, or to gather monetary value from trees otherwise destined for harvest. However, dead trees generally do not need to be removed to help the forest recover. Overall, the forest often recovers best when the dead trees remain, especially the larger ones, and nature is allowed to take its course.

Dead trees are beautiful and stark reminders of the fury and healing properties of nature. Ponder their grandeur in the wake of fire and death. Leave them standing as functional landmarks to the power of nature and critical pieces in the puzzle of the forest ecosystem.

For information about forest stewardship on private lands, and opportunities for cost-share thinning projects in Eastern Washington to help protect property from the next fire event (it’s not if, but when), please visit the Department of Natural Resources Small Forest Landowner Office at www.dnr.wa.gov/sflo. And feel free to contact me with questions or observations about dead trees, or any other habitat issues at ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov .

Message from the Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office – Climate Resilience

Tami Miketa, Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources

We know small forest landowners work hard every day to do what’s right on the land, and ensure they continue to provide the clean air, water, wildlife habitat, and forest products from their lands. Recently, the President and his Administration recognized this and committed to helping landowners do even more to keep forests healthy, intact, and producing products that are also good for the environment. The report recognizes the role that private forests and forest products play when it comes to enhancing the climate resilience of our precious natural resources. Below is more information on the report and a summary of the strategies to make the nation’s natural resources more resilient to a changing climate.

On October 8, 2014, the White House CouCEQ Logoncil on Environmental Quality released its Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources. The document outlines executive actions and public/private programs to mitigate climate change and represents a comprehensive commitment by the federal government to support resilience of our natural resources. In addition to identifying both large and small forest lands as important in absorbing carbon dioxide, the report discusses special markets, investing in wood construction, natural resource conservation actions, new tax policies, and forest inventory.

The report identifies four strategies to make the nation’s natural resources more resilient to a changing climate. Each strategy documents significant progress and provides a roadmap for action moving forward. Below are highlights of these strategies:

  1. Foster climate-resilient lands and waters — Protect important landscapes and develop the science, planning, tools, Duckabushand practices to sustain and enhance the resilience of the nation’s natural resources. Key actions include the development of a Resilience Index to measure the progress of restoration and conservation actions and other new or expanded resilience tools to support climate-smart natural resource management. Agencies will identify and prioritize landscape-scale conservation opportunities for building resilience; and fight the introduction and spread of invasive species. Throughout, agencies will evaluate resilience efforts to inform future actions.
  2. Manage and enhance U.S. carbon sinks — Conserve and restore soils, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal areas that store carbon. Maintain and increase Sherman9-KenBevisthe capacity of these areas to provide vital ecosystem services alongside carbon storage such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, food, fiber, and recreation. Key actions include the development of improved inventory, assessment, projection and monitoring systems for important carbon sinks and the development of estimates of baseline carbon stocks and trends to inform resource management. A number of actions will secure the continued health of the nation’s natural resources that provide carbon biosequestration, including forests, agricultural lands, and inland and coastal wetlands.
  3. Enhance community preparedness and resilience by utilizing and sustaining natural resources — Harness the benefits of nature to protect communities from harm and build innovative 21st century infrastructure that integrates natural systems into community development. Federal agencies will take action to encourage investment in natural infrastructure to improve resilience and enhance natural defenses through new federal guidance on ecosystem services assessment, an actionable research agenda, rigorous program evaluation, and expanded decision support tools and services. Federal agencies will increase assistance to states, tribes and localities interested in pursuing green storm water management solutions and will expand partnerships that reduce wildfire risk and protect critical drinking water supplies, promote irrigation efficiency and water efficiency, launch coastal resilience research projects and create decision support tools for local communities to manage their coastal resources.
  4. Modernize federal programs, investments, and delivery of services to build resilience and enhance sequestration of biological carbon — Ensure that federal programs, policies, trainings, and investments consider climate resilience and carbon sequestration, and organize the delivery of federal science, tools and services to help resource managers, landowners, and communities optimize their natural resource management decisions in a changing climate. Agencies will incorporate resilience into natural resources planning and management across all existing operations and programs. Climate-smart practices will be reflected in land acquisition programs and financial assistance programs. Agencies will develop agency-specific principles and guidance for considering biological carbon in management and planning decisions. Agencies will enhance coordination among existing regional resilience information and services operations to better meet the needs of American communities, and strengthen the federal workforce through training to build the climate literacy and capability of natural resource managers. Targeted training and grant assistance to tribes will help prepare indigenous communities for the impacts of climate change and support the development of tribal climate adaptation plans to enhance community resilience.

For more information on specific executive actions and private/public/nonprofit sector commitments that support resilient natural resources and the communities that depend on them, click the link to the Council for Environmental Quality fact sheet.

Fall Mushroom Management

James R. Freed, Washington State University Natural Resources Extension Professor

LobsterShroom

Lobster mushroom.

With the cool mornings and a touch of frost in the air, you can be sure that winter isn’t far away. But while it’s still fall, take a look at the mushrooms on your property and document where you can find some edible, tasty treats. Since most mushrooms only fruit for short periods of time, you’ll need to make frequent visits to the forest, but that shouldn’t be much of a hardship!

Before you start your survey, you’ll need:

  • A good book or App with color photos and clear descriptions of the types of mushrooms that grow in your area. The Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Mushrooms is a good starter, as is Daniel Winkler’s Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest. Online sites like Northern Bush Craft also have great photos and descriptions, as well as recommendations on how to harvest and care for wild mushrooms.
  • A map to draw in the locations of the different mushrooms you find. The journal can also be used to establish photo points and inventory plots so you can track how different mushrooms are doing year to year.
  • A journal to record your observations about the area. Make note of the kind of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants
    Oyster mushroom.

    Oyster mushroom.

    present as well as things like the type of ground cover (rocky, mossy covered, duff); whether the forest canopy is open or closed; the aspect (north, south) of hills with mushrooms on them; soil moisture and temperature. The time and date you first and last saw them, along with the weather conditions before and during fruiting, are also important.

  • A good camera to record what you’re seeing. Photos can be as useful as written notes. They can be sent to mushroom societies, researchers and other mushroom harvesters who can help you with the identification, harvest methods and use of your fungi.

Once you’ve made a positive identification, it’s time to harvest. The gear you’ll need is fairly simple:

  • A knife and brush combination – This little tool makes it possible to use one hand to hold the mushroom and the other to cut it off cleanly at the soil line and brush off all the dirt and leaves. I connected an inexpensive 1” wide bristle paint brush by its handle to a small kitchen steak knife ShroomKnifehandle with duct tape, but these can also be purchased online. It’s important to remember to cut the mushroom off at the soil line rather than taking the whole fungi. Doingshroomagram so will ensure that you don’t disturb the mycelium that will produce the next crop. It also helps to ensure that you have cleaner fungi to work with.
  • A container – Woven baskets, mesh bags and 5 gallon plastic buckets are easy to carry and can hold all your treasures with ease. If you use a plastic bucket, take a small plastic grocery bag and pull it over the open end of the bucket to keep out the rain, dirt and leaves. I position the bag so one of the handle holes gives me access to the bucket.

When you get the mushrooms in the house, they should be cleaned with a brush and stored in a paper bag so they can breathe. Do not wash them off by soaking them in water – they’ll get waterlogged and soften and turn brown. If they are already wet from the rain a quick spritz with a garden hose can remove extra dirt. I use compressed air to clean my mushrooms. Any missed dirt and leaves are just organic.

ShroomBruschettaHow you use them is up to you. Most mushroom hunters like to eat a few right away. A sautéed batch of wild fungi with olive oil and garlic over pasta, a side dish of sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup—the possibilities are endlessly tasty!

If you have too many mushroom to eat at one time and don’t want to store them in bags in the refrigerator, try dehydrating them. They’ll rehydrate easily in soups and stew or in wine sauce. It takes about 11 pounds of fresh mushrooms to make 1 pound of dried mushroom.

Gift packs of wild dried mushrooms make a great gift for the cook on your Christmas list as well, but it’s helpful if you label the package with some basic information about the mushroom and the fact that it was wild harvested, dried and packed by you. I often include a simple recipe in the package.

Taking the time to mark and record your mushroom sites will ensure that you will find them again and protect them when you are doing your forest management activities in the future.

Conspicuous Summer Tree Browning

Karen Ripley, Forest Health Program Manager, Washington Department of Natural Resources

“I went away on a two-week vacation. When I came home, my pine trees had all turned brown!” Kettle Falls landowner, late summer 2014

roadside  hail damage Stevens County, date not recorded

Hail damage in Stevens County. Note that the upper crowns are defoliated and the needles damaged, while sheltered portions of the crowns and vegetation are unaffected.

Although tree crowns suddenly turn brown for a variety of reasons, the timing of the color change can sometimes be an indicator of the causes. For example, disease impacts from the previous year become apparent in the spring as new buds open and older needles die, while bark beetle damage shows up later in the year as the damaged trees and branches dry and turn red.

When trees turn brown quickly in mid-summer like our Kettle Falls landowners’, there are three likely causes: fire, chemicals or hail. While it’s always best to consult a professional, here is some information to help you identify the potential sources of the damage:

Fire

A group of newly scorched trees may make you look twice as you drive by at 55 mph, but the tell-tale blackening of the affected ground and debris are usually fairly obvious and persist for months or years. The damage to the trees’ foliage is generally concentrated in the lower crowns. The scorched needles may be intact, but there you won’t see the tell-tale dots left by fungus fruiting bodies. The needles are usually cast from injured branches relatively quickly, but they can remain attached to fire-killed branches for several years.

Chemicals

Damage from herbicides or de-icers is usually concentrated to the areas where the products were applied. The symptoms appear from early spring into summer as the affected tissue dries out. Right-of-way vegetation and the sides of trees facing roadsides may exhibit killed or yellow-flecked foliage. The foliage will appear intact, without any missing or eaten portions, but injured portions could be sunken or shrunken. Sucking insects can cause similar mottling, but insects usually leave shed exoskeletons or webbing as well. Chemical damage can also be extremely consistent in appearance – much more so than damage from insects. Many herbicide ingredients mimic or interfere with plant growth hormones, and commonly lead to abnormal shapes and sizes of shoots and leaves. 

Hail

Needles knocked off from a July 12, 2009 hailstorm on Monumental Mountain, Stevens County. Photo: Dale Danell

Needles knocked off by hail on Monumental Mountain, Stevens County. Photo: D. Danell

Hail stones melt quickly but damage symptoms became apparent immediately and can persist for several years. Think about how hail stones fall and how the storms containing hail approach. The storms are usually sudden, with fierce wind gusts, so the side of the tree or forest facing the storm is where the damage generally occurs. The size of the affected area can vary widely, with sudden transitions from severe to no apparent damage.

Hail damaged ponderosa pine near Kettle Falls, WA. Notice how the bark has been knocked off the upper surfaces of the branch. Branches or shoots were sufficiently damaged for foliage to die and dry out quickly.

Hail damaged ponderosa pine near Kettle Falls. Notice how the bark has been knocked off the upper surfaces of the branch.

Tree damage (broken, ripped, abraded or pitted branches, bark and needles) will be concentrated on the upper crowns and surfaces of the branches. The upper and unprotected foliage may be knocked to the ground, while protected interior or lower foliage may appear green and intact.

Injury from hail is inflicted suddenly so the damaged trees will appear to be in the same stage of injury or recovery. Although some physical changes occur immediately (fallen foliage, broken bark or branches), the injured needles dry out quickly in the warm days of summer, making the color changes more conspicuous and rapid than many other types of insect, disease or physical activity.

One way of finding out if hail has occurred near your woodlands is to determine a date range for the damage, and then check those dates on NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center to see if hail was verified or reported in your area.

If your trees are damaged by hail, consider the following as you assess the damage:

Screen shot of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center’s website showing reports of wind and hail on July 23, 2014.

Screen shot of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center’s website showing reports of wind and hail on July 23, 2014.

  • The loss of upper, exterior foliage is more significant to a conifer tree than the loss of its lower, interior foliage.
  • Although forest managers always try to maintain at least 30 percent of the height of a tree in a live crown, vigorous trees that receive fire injuries from below or insect defoliation from above can survive with less than 30 percent of their live crown remaining.
  • After the injured or dead foliage has dried out, check the survival of twigs and branches by examining some of the remaining buds. Slice the bud lengthwise with a sharp knife. If the bud tissue is green and succulent, the bud and the twig it is attached to are still alive. If the bud is brown and punky, that portion of the branch or twig may have died.

Events, Workshops and Publications

Seminars

Ecological Forestry and Riparian Health – Learn how to use ecological forestry to manage your woodlands. This four-part Skagit County workshop series begins by introducing the principles of ecological forestry, its relationship to healthy streams, and strategies for successful riparian function. Participants will also participate in a site tour of a working forest that demonstrates ecological forest management principles in action.

  • Sedro-Woolley – Saturday, November 8, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pre-registration required. The cost of this workshop is $15 and includes lunch.

Wetlands, Ponds and Amphibians – Spend an evening enjoying pizza and learning about the importance of wetlands, regulatory issues around wetlands and ponds, controlling reed canary grass and other invasive plants around ponds and wetlands, and amphibian species found in western Washington woodlands.

  • Everett – Thursday, November 13, 6 to 9 p.m. Pre-registration required. The $8 fee for this seminar includes the cost of pizza!

Native Trees – WSU Extension Forestry Specialist Kevin Zobrist will present a slide show of native trees in western Washington and discuss their characteristics.

  • Everett – Thursday, December 4, 6 to 9 p.m. Pre-registration required. The $8 fee for this seminar includes the cost of pizza!

Workshops

Forest Owners Winter School – A hands-on, all-day event with class choices ranging from chainsaw maintenance (bring your saw!) to wildlife habitat, plant ID, native land use, wildfire planning, timber management and more.

  • Colville – February 21, 2015, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pre-registration required. For more information, contact Andy Perleberg at 509-667-6540 or via email at andyp@wsu.edu

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning – WSU’s on-line course will teach you how to assess your trees, avoid insect and disease problems, and attract wildlife. State experts will help you develop your own Forest Stewardship Plan to keep your woods on track to provide enjoyment and income for years to come.

  • Thursday evenings, February 12, 2015, to March 26, 2015, 6:00-9:00 p.m.

On-line Classes

Forest Stewardship University offers a complete online education experience, featuring over 20 mini-courses ranging from forest health to taxes.

New Publications

Forestry Education and Assistance for Washington Forest Landowners – A directory of key agencies and contacts for forest owners throughout Washington.

Consulting Foresters Directory – A listing of private consultants who can help you carry out forest management activities.

Small-scale Sawmill Directory – These databases provide a partial listing of sawmills that accept small quantities of logs:

Websites

Forest Seedling Network – An interactive website that connects landowners with seedling providers, forest management services and contractors.

Woodland Fish and Wildlife – A cooperative effort between state and federal agencies and universities to provide woodland owners with wildlife management information. The 21 publications cover topics as varied as cavity nesting ducks to wildlife found in white oak woodlands.

Women Owning Woodlands – The Women Owning Woodlands web project strives to bring topical, accessible, and current forestry information to woodland owners and forest practitioners through news articles, blogs, events, resources, and personal stories.

DNR Economic and Revenue Forecast Highlights

David Chertudi, DNR Economist   

Tree Dollar SignU.S. Economy and Housing Market. While a harsh winter and business inventory adjustments caused the U.S. economy to shrink by 2.1 percent (annualized) in the first quarter of 2014, preliminary estimates of second quarter growth show a strong rebound at an annualized rate of 4.2 percent. Year-over-year GDP growth remains modest at almost 2.5 percent. In October 2009 the unemployment rate peaked at 10.0 percent, but has slowly fallen to 6.2 percent as of July 2014. While these are positive signals, the U.S. economy still faces significant challenges. Although unemployment is falling, it remains historically high and there are significant difficulties for younger graduates and workers, as well as the long-term unemployed. Improvements to the housing market have been disappointingly slow. New housing starts in 2013 averaged 928,000, which is 52 percent over 2011, but have stagnated at near a million so far in 2014. U.S. housing prices have been trending upward since January 2012, but price growth stalled in the second quarter of 2014.

Internationally, the economy of the European Union is shaky, with several countries still in recession and the threat of a deflationary spiral looming. The crises in Crimea and Ukraine have introduced significant political and economic uncertainty and China’s economy continues to show signs of underlying structural and demographic problems. Finally, the U.S. government still has not implemented a coherent, growth-driven economic policy; this seems unlikely to happen in the highly politicized environment of an election year.

Lumber and Log Prices. Lumber and log prices were up in 2013 and continue to improve in 2014. While it varied widely, Random Lengths’ Coast Dry Random and Stud composite lumber price averaged $370/mbf in 2013 – up 20 percent from the 2012 average of $309/mbf – and averaged $379/mbf thus far in 2014. Pacific Northwest log prices have also moved up sharply after being fairly flat for 2011 and most of 2012. The price for a ‘typical’ DNR log delivered to the mill continued to climb from 2013’s $564/mbf average, up 18 percent from 2012, to a nominal high of $624/mbf in January, the highest price since 2000. However, the average price has since pulled back to $558/mbf as of July.

Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tips to Help Defend Your Home from Wildfire

It is simply heartbreaking to think about all of the homes that have been lost due to the devastating wildfires that have occurred in Washington this year. On behalf of me and my staff at the Small Forest Landowner Office, our hearts go out to all the families that have experienced such devastation.

As fire danger continues to escalate, the Department of Natural Resources recently announced a statewide burn ban for all outdoor burning on DNR-protected lands that runs until September 30, 2014. More than 350,000 acres have burned in Washington this year, and more than $91 million has been spent battling those wildfires.

Below are some tips to help you defend your home from wildfire and some ideas about fire-resistant landscaping techniques that can help keep your home safe, especially if you live close to the forest or other open lands.

Steps to Defend Your Home from Wildfire

Homes built in forests should have a minimum defensible space of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local DNR Region Office or fire department/district for additional information.

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.

    Before thinning.

    Before thinning.

  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
  • Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Clear a 10 foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill – use nonflammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; and then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.

    After thinning.

    After thinning.

  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet.
  • Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home’s contents.

Now is also a good time to consider fire-resistant landscaping techniques that can help keep your home safe, especially if you live close to the forest or other open lands. Trees, shrubs, grasses and other vegetation provide fuel for fires. Reducing or even eliminating vegetation close to structures is a way to create defensible space against a wildfire. Fire-resistant landscaping can be both functional and beautiful. Try these tips to help keep your home safe from wildfire this year:

  • Use plants with high moisture content such as deciduous trees/shrubs nearest the buildings.
  • Trim tree branches away from buildings.
  • Keep vegetation, including the lawn low and green.
  • Limb trees at least six feet above the ground to reduce the chances that a fire on the ground will spread into tree tops – this is especially important if your property has lots of trees.
  • Keep decorative ground covers such as beauty bark away from direct contact with your home – bark and wood chip ground covers can smolder.
  • Trim back trees and shrubbery around structures so that fire crews and their vehicles will have safe access in an emergency.

If you’re designing or updating your home’s landscaping, think of ways to incorporate firebreaks (things that don’t burn) into your landscape design. A defensible space doesn’t have to be an eyesore. Some examples of firebreaks are: concrete, brick or gravel walkways, concrete flower box borders or planters, and water features, such as a pond. Even the backyard swimming pool can serve as a firebreak.

Get Firewise

In Washington, numerous communities have received national recognition for their fire prevention efforts through the Firewise Communities USA Program. Many other neighborhoods have completed a wildfire protection plan that can help save lives and property.

We can all do our part to help prevent the spread of these wildfires. For additional tips on how to reduce the risk of wildfire to your home and family, check out the Firewise Toolkit.

Eastern Washington Forest Landowner Cost Share Program

The Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service, are implementing a program to encourage eligible non-federal forest owners to implement practices which improve forest health and reduce the risk from wildfire and bark beetle infestation on forest lands in Eastern Washington. Non-federal owners of forestland in Eastern Washington, who own a total of no more than 5,000 forested acres within the state of Washington, are eligible to participate. For more information call 360-902-1706 or click here to submit an application online.

Our House almost Burned Down

By Ken Bevis, DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist

This month I have a breathless true story cobbled together from various participants, with lessons and morals throughout. If you live in fire country, pay attention.

On Friday, August 1, 2014 at approximately 1:30 pm, a trailer got a flat tire on Highway 153 near Winthrop. The driver didn’t notice right away and kept driving for a ways. The trailer’s steel rim showered sparks along the road into extremely dry grass and brush, and a fire immediately started.

Unfortunately, the wind was blowing and in a very short time the fire was moving fast and headed northwest, directly towards our house on Rising Eagle Road. It was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We live on a hill, surrounded by scattered ponderosa pines and (before the fire) bunchgrass and considerable mature bitterbrush. Last winter was dry and spring was wet, making for lush growth – not good when combined with a very hot, dry summer.

Bevis's defensible, wet space.

Bevis’s defensible, wet space.

The Carlton Complex had erupted 16 days earlier directly across the valley from us, spreading massive destruction and havoc in our area. It was a true firestorm, at one point moving 30 miles in 7 hours and destroying much forest and property in its path, including parts of Pateros. We weren’t in that fire’s path, but watched it burn across the valley from us for many days. We got ready in case fire came our way with our own Level 1 evacuation preparation. My wife Teri and I worked on our defensible space, weed whacking tall grass, pulling flammable materials away from the house, and running our sprinklers to wet down the lawn and adjacent areas. We worked hardest in the 30 feet closest to the buildings, but we also put a lot of thought into where we could expect a fire to come from and worked on those areas too. Our preparation was integral to what happened next.

When the Rising Eagle Road fire erupted, the local fire district volunteers (Okanogan 6) were on the scene in a few short minutes. Teri was the only one home and she was given about 10 minutes to evacuate. They came up our drive and positioned themselves with hose lays around the perimeter of the house. Ingress and egress are essential elements if firefighters are to defend a structure and we have a wide circular turn around in front of the house that they could use to get out if they had to. I found out later they were forced to make some quick judgment calls as to where they could go, and some firefighters were familiar with our road and the houses up there so they came and defended our house. One neighbor, tucked deep in the pines below, was not so lucky and their house burned to the ground.

When the volunteers arrived, the fire wasn’t quite to our hill, but the smoke was low and thick and visibility was very poor.

Bevis house surrounded by smoke, wood pile burning.

Bevis house surrounded by smoke, wood pile burning.

Hoses were laid and very quickly the fire came roaring across the hill, pushing flames 15 to 20 feet high through the tall bitterbrush (aka “gasoline on a stick”) and torching pine trees in the draw below the house. The firefighters sprayed water on the grassy perimeter around our buildings, on our woodpile (away from the shop but near the perimeter), and all around the house. They tossed away the burnable items we’d missed, like the hollow log tucked next to the house that was, in the description of a firefighter, “burning like a roman candle”. If he hadn’t found it, the siding would have caught fire.   A pile of raspberry clippings were extinguished in a garden bed 10 feet from the house. Four of my honey bee hives, 100 feet from the house, erupted into flames and burned into oblivion. A firefighter blasted them with a hose saving the two tallest hives. Another firefighter told me they had to hold the line because, “if your house went up we were toast. It was a life or death situation”.   The battle raged for 20 to 30 minutes with blinding smoke and the volunteers putting out embers where they found them. The most intense part of the fire front burned past our house in less than 30 minutes, but the hill was still burning after it passed.

The fire was raging to the Northwest and threatening many more homes. The crews were ordered to go to the front of the fire about a mile away and quickly pulled the hoses from our property and moved on. A friend who was at our house fighting the fire described driving his fire truck down through a burning stand of overstocked ponderosa pine on our neighbor’s property, with fire licking the truck on both sides. Our hill was still smoking and burning, but the worst seemed to have passed our house.

We live overlooking the North Cascades Smokejumper base at the Winthrop Airport. There were at least 7 helicopters based there fighting the Carlton Complex, and in a very short time an armada of airships with buckets began fighting the Rising Eagle Road fire. They worked in rotation, filling buckets in the Methow River and dropping on targets all across the fire. The fire reports said that this was a very intense aerial attack due to the number of air ships in the limited space. At one time there were 12 helicopters, two water bombers and the amazing DC10 jet retardant plane attacking this fire. The Rising Eagle Fire was coming directly toward the Twin Lakes neighborhood and the main fire camp for the Carlton Complex and stopping it was imperative.

Skorsky bull's eye drop on wood pile.  Photo: E. Stockton.

Sikorsky bull’s eye drop on wood pile. Photo: E. Stockton.

One of the things we missed during our “fire-proofing” was a box of wood scraps about 20 feet from my shop. Yes, it was too close and it caught on fire, with 6 to -8 foot flames erupting after the ground crew was ordered to leave. Ed Stockard, our neighbor across the valley and about 1.5 miles east, watched in horror as the blaze moved towards the shop, taking photographs with his long lens. Helicopters were working the hill, but missed putting out the box at least 5 times. Then, a big Orange and White Sikorsky S58T scored a bulls eye bucket drop and Ed cheered. Like most shops, ours has chainsaw gas, propane tanks, etc, and if it had gone up, the house would’ve too. Airships continued to work the hill and drop water on hot spots and structures for several hours, helicopters and planes buzzing the smoky air.

I made it to Ed’s house in late afternoon and watched the fire continue to burn avidly across the hill, while the helicopters kept dropping water on the hot spots. We watched in horror as another friend and neighbor’s beautiful woodland custom home burned to the ground. Nearer our house, one full time home, two part time cabins and two garages also burned down. These structures burned completely, leaving only twisted metal and unburnables in the place of people’s work and dreams. All told, ten houses and numerous outbuildings burned down in the Rising Eagle fire, a small portion of the 250,000 plus acres, over 350 homes and numerous outbuildings destroyed in the Carlton Complex.

I came home at midnight with Ed in tow, to a smoky, smoldering hillside, and grabbed the evacuation boxes that Teri hadn’t had time to grab when she evacuated earlier in the day. Ed and I could see three smoking hot spots on the hillside below the house from across the valley and we hunted them down. We buried smoldering pieces of firewood that had been blasted off of the fire pit by helicopter water drops. One was close enough to the remaining dry grass to have been a problem. I couldn’t sleep and returned a few short hours later at dawn, to find our home standing. I looked all around for embers and found two more smoking spots near the house that I doused with buckets of water. I walked the hill shocked at the devastation of our property and neighborhood, and amazed that our house was still standing.

Over the next week days, shifts of firefighters from at least 5 states came across our hill looking for hot spots. The Public Utility District workers immediately started repairing the burned out power lines. And our little forest was a blackened smoking ruin…

But our house still stands in its little green spot. The lessons we learned?

  1. Preparation makes a big difference. Our defensible space land wasn’t perfect, but it existed and gave the firefighters something to work with. We had a green lawn and gravel, wetted ground, flammables were pulled away from the buildings, leaves swept up, we had used flame resistant deck materials, and our sprinklers were running at the most vulnerable side.
  2.  Firefighter access is also huge. Not only was there ingress and egress, but there was a wide turnaround for the fire truck. The shared road below us is wide and graveled, but where it crosses the neighbor’s property it was too thick with trees and we had been planning to enter into a DNR sponsored thinning project later this year. Luckily the fire district decided to come in and fight our fire. Once here, the professionalism of the fire team took over and they worked hard to save the house.
  3. Nearby air support was a very fortunate circumstance. The burning box would have been caught by the local fire fighters in normal circumstances, but the helicopters kept the fire at bay and pushed back hard. If not for the Carlton Complex, no helicopters would have been immediately available, much less 12.
  4. Follow up afterwards was important in preventing an after the fact fire from erupting. Teri and I have continued to work on the fire wise prescription we received after an inspection by Okanogan Conservation District, cutting back brush and trees that could cause problems in another event.
  5. Luck is part of the fire equation. My firefighter friend said that fire is “fickle” and he’s seen it burn places where people did almost everything right. He described a house with excellent defensible space, trees well-spaced back from the house, but with a woodpile stacked against the house on the second floor deck. The woodpile caught fire and was burning out of control when they got there.   The house burned to the ground. We found several small ember burns in vulnerable places around our house afterwards, our Trex decking is marked all over with black burn scars and the patio furniture is full of melted holes, but the house and outbuildings survived. The details matter…..

My wife and I were traumatized by this experience, but we came out ok. It easily could have had a very different outcome. We feel a mix of deep sadness for our friends and neighbors that lost homes and elation that our home was spared. It’s a strange feeling that I never wish to repeat.

I share this story as a witness to Fire Safe. It’s real. If you live in fire country, take steps to prepare for fire. It’s not if fire will burn near you, but when and we need to be ready.

Cultural Resource Protection and Small Forest Landowners

Abandoned privy.

Abandoned privy.

Woodlands provide a home for plants and animals, but they’re also home to the remains of past uses. Whether it’s an old well, homestead, railroad or a Tribal site, these cultural and historical resources on the land tell the story of our past – a past that makes it distinct from other places. Historic and cultural resources provide us with a tangible link to the people and events that shaped our shared history, communities and ourselves.

Most small landowners are willing to identify and protect cultural resources, but may be unaware of how to go about doing so. They may also lack the financial resources to develop an organized and consistent approach to identifying and protecting the sites.

Identification of cultural and historic resources, as well as a plan to protect them should be part of every Forest Stewardship Plan. Both DNR’s stewardship foresters and Washington State University (WSU) Extension foresters can assist private woodland owners with developing plans to protect these resources. Addressing these resources in your Stewardship Plan also helps ensure that your plan meets state and federal laws which protect our cultural and historic resources. To access the state’s searchable database, go to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation or you can contact the office by phone at (360) 586-3065. For more information on the Forest Practices Rules and to find out which Tribes are in your area, contact the Forest Practices staff in your DNR Region Office.

Cedar tree used for bark harvest.  Note the scarring at the top of the photo.

Cedar tree used for bark harvest. Note the scarring at the top of the photo.

One way of learning more is through online workshops and webinars. Two helpful resources are the proceedings of the Quinault Indian Nation and Washington Forest Protection Association sponsored 2012 Cultural Resources Workshop and the American Tree Farm Systems (ATFS) webinar Archeology in Your Woods.

To assist landowners and Tribes in resolving issues when cultural resources arise in the course of forest practices planning and permitting, the Forest Practices Board developed the Cultural Resources Protection and Management Plan (CRPMP). The CRPMP is a non-regulatory, multi-caucus, consensus approach to address protection and management of cultural resources on private and state managed forest lands in Washington. This approach is based on:

  • Increasing communication and mutual respect between landowners and tribes,
  • Developing cooperative processes to protect and manage cultural resources, and
  • Providing educational opportunities to foster trust, commitment, and a common understanding of cultural resources issues relating to forest management.
Ceremonial site.

Ceremonial site.

The content and documents of the CRPMP were developed by the Timber/Fish/Wildlife (TFW) Cultural Resources Roundtable in response to a request from the Forest Practices Board to fulfill the cultural resources commitments in the Forests and Fish Report. The caucuses participating in developing the CRPMP were the Washington Forest Protection Association, Washington Farm Forestry Association, Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, DNR and individual Tribes. The plan “…is a “living” document open to updates and changes to reflect progress, completion of tasks and changes in priorities and direction of the CRPMP.”